NFL.com's Elliot Harrison listed the NFL's 13 greatest games of 2013, and wouldn't you know it, the Bengals made the list. The game on the list isn't what you're thinking, though. It's not the Bengals against the Steelers or against the defending Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens. It's the Bengals against the Green Bay Packers in Paul Brown Stadium.
At some point, Cincinnati has to prove it can beat the best teams. The Bengals tend to take care of business against the teams they're supposed to beat ... and that's about it. Over the past three seasons, they're 3-9 versus the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. They've also faltered against the Houston Texans, another quality team, over the past two campaigns. That has to change if Marvin Lewis' group is to take the next step. Last season didn't turn around for the Bengals until they beat the visiting New York Giants in Week 10; that victory propelled them to win six of their next seven games and secure a playoff berth.
The Packers will present a stiff challenge and litmus test for a Bengals team that some analysts feel can be a player in the AFC. Cincy can get after the quarterback (51 sacks last year), which is important in this showdown; the Packers have trouble protecting Aaron Rodgers, who sometimes holds the ball in the pocket for too long. Maybe a fan will come take the ball out of Rodgers' hand ... nah, that would never happen to a Packers quarterback in Cincinnati.
The Bengals are 6-5 against the Packers and are 3-1 against them at home. They've also won the last two games against the Packers (2005, 2009). However, the Packers haven't finished a season with a worse record than 10-6 since 2009 and they sports one of the league's most potent offenses as well as a very good defense.
If the Bengals can take care of business against the Packers, there's no reason they can't against teams like the Patriots, Bears and Lions, which are all teams that will be tough to beat. The Bengals' schedule in 2013 is quite a bit tougher than it was in 2012. They will be facing five teams that made the playoffs in 2012, luckily all at home (except the Ravens, who they play at home and in Baltimore) and their opponents' combined winning percentage is .508 (130-126), which is the 12th toughest schedule in the league for the upcoming year.
The 2013 schedule will be released on Thrusday at 8 p.m. ET so it's unclear as to whether the Bengals will face the Packers early in the season or late. Either way, defeating a team as good as the Packers will go a long way to prove that the last two years weren't a fluke and the Bengals are able to play with any team in the league.
For my money, though, I'd rather watch the Bengals beat the Steelers or Ravens any day.